EDITORIAL: On the far edge - Two Washington-based scholars wring their hands over Republican extremism
by Editorial Board
Apr 30, 2012 | 3914 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.”

This conclusion is the view of two scholars, Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The “core of the problem lies with the Republican Party,” the pair wrote in a recent Washington Post oped. The essay is a shorter version of their new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Make no mistake, Ornstein and Mann are not party hacks. Their employers operate near two ends of Washington’s ideological spectrum, with Brookings more in line with liberals and AEI friendlier to conservative causes.

The current state of affairs of the Republican Party, they point out, is decidedly not a conservative cause, despite what many in the party profess. The party “has become an insurgent outlier in American politics” that “is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

It’s not fair to dismiss all elected Republicans as know-nothings who have embraced an uncompromising anti-science/anti-reason platform in an all-out war with opponents. While some more extreme Republicans fall into those ranks, we suspect many others are merely too politically nervous to challenge the zealots within their party. Their silence in the face of irresponsible and dangerous notions about government, science and war may keep them in office — at least until the winds of politics shift — but it ultimately does damage to their nation and their own political party.

This collection of quiet Republicans must summon the strength to call out extremism within their own ranks. The nation didn’t put a man on the moon with anti-science politicians running the show. It didn’t produce the world’s leading economy by crank notions about economics. And it didn’t provide more of its citizens a pathway out of poverty with nothing but a scornful sneer and a miserly budget.

The voters hold the cards, write Orstein and Mann. “If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before it gets better,” they write.

We shutter at the notion of U.S. politics becoming more dysfunctional.
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